Serving the Savior

Have you loved anyone the way Mary loved the Savior?

May 15-21

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Six days before the Passover that heralded in Christ’s crowning achievement of the atonement, He sat down amongst His followers for dinner at Martha’s. During this time, Mary comes in.

John 12:3-5

3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.

4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him,

5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?

Christ tells Judas to leave her alone because Christ knows that Mary is doing Him an incredible service. I want to talk a bit about Mary’s service and why it meant so much to the Savior, and then I want to talk about how some of the details in this story can teach us about our own service to the Savior.

Judas’ rebuke

Is there anyone in your life that you love in the way Mary loved Christ? I want you to picture this person and think about how you feel about them, and then I want you to ponder for a second the situation that Mary found herself in. Christ specifically mentions that Mary had preserved that ointment for His burial. In my mind, this means that she knew He was going to die. I’m not sure all of the disciples had really grasped this fact. When we look at some of their reactions throughout the New Testament or after the death of Christ, we can see hints that people didn’t fully understand that Christ had prophesied of His own, literal death. But Mary understood enough that she had come to anoint Him for His burial. 

Now go back to this person that you love in the way that Mary loved the Savior. I ask for this because sometimes our own love for the Savior can feel abstract or hard to summon in various moments, but it is the feelings of Mary that I find so absolutely critical to this story. So think of someone specific that naturally pulls those same feelings out of you that Mary experienced. 

I want you to picture yourself and your loved one in the situation of Mary and Christ. You know that your loved one is going to die. How would you honor them? Don’t be afraid to pause long enough to get specific in your mind. This exercise works so much better when we think specifically. So what would you do in preparation for your loved one to leave you and this world?

Now as you’re picturing this action you’re performing, I want you to imagine someone coming and scoffing at your heartfelt actions. This is what happened to Mary, right? She wasn’t doing this haphazardly. She didn’t grab that expensive ointment just for fun. She had prepared herself to honor the Savior, and Judas had scoffed at her. Let’s say your loved one is dying of cancer, and you go to their house and clean it for their family. Of all the things you could have done, you felt that this would be extremely meaningful to them. You serve them, and someone comes and criticizes you for doing it. 

There is certainly a lesson we can learn from Judas. However, I’d like to keep our focus on Mary.

How did she feel in that moment when Judas was angry that it had not been given to the poor? There could have been any number of feelings. However, when I picture myself in Mary’s situation, I picture a moment of hesitation. Did I do something wrong? Is the Savior upset? Should I have given this to the poor? Would that have been a better sacrifice?

To be completely honest, I don’t think the Savior cared about what the action was. I think He cared about how she felt. Ancient Jewish burial customs didn’t usually include pre-death anointing; Mary could have taken that ointment and sold it and given it to the poor. I can imagine her having a private conversation with the Lord in which she told Him how much she loved Him and wanted to serve Him. I imagine tears in her eyes as she explained that she had wanted to do something that would please Him and demonstrate how much she loved Him. She tells Him that she went and took some expensive ointment, sold it, and gave all of the money to a widow. I picture Him hugging her with tears in His eyes, feeling deeply loved by a woman who had sought to follow His teachings because of how she had grown to love Him. It wasn’t about the action. It was about the love that she felt for Him. 

The principle is this: Let it be about love for the Savior.

Sometimes we get so caught up in what we’re supposed to do that we completely miss the mark. We get so caught up in performing the actions that our feelings turn sour. Remember that above all, the Savior wants our love. As He sat at dinner, aware of the coming agony, I can’t imagine anything more comforting to Him than this act of love. So when you choose to act and complete your gospel checklist, remember that what Christ actually wants is your affection. That is what is meaningful to Him. There have been times in my life that I have felt obligated to study the scriptures for “enough” time. However, when I let my love for the Savior motivate my actions rather than my pride, sometimes my day looks like reading a page in The Book of Mormon and taking a nap. And let me tell you, I really love Him on those days even if I didn’t spend an hour in Come Follow Me.


Now I want to draw attention to Martha for a second. Martha is best known for the story when she is cumbered about by many things and complains to the Savior that her sister isn’t helping her. Instead of telling Mary to go and help, the Savior tells Martha to let go of her to-do list. Gosh, my heart goes out to this woman because heaven knows she and I are cut from the same cloth.

As we look at this story, we find a slightly similar situation. Mary is at the Savior’s feet, and Martha is serving dinner (see verse 2). I wonder if Martha came out with some more food for the table and froze for a second in the doorway as she saw her sister bathing His feet in her tears. 

I don’t know under what circumstances Martha became aware of her sister’s actions, and I don’t know how she felt when she did become aware, but I can tell you how I hope she felt. 

I hope Martha felt extremely uplifted by her sister’s example. I hope that she saw the act of devotion and felt very close to Mary because she had experienced that same love for the Savior. I hope that she loved the Savior enough that she didn’t compare her own actions to those of her sister. I hope that she continued on bestowing her own gift and serving dinner with the same love in her heart that Mary felt while Mary bestowed her gift. And I hope that she had developed an immense testimony that the Savior saw her too.

The principle here? The same as before: let it be about love for the Savior.

Except the practical applications look a little bit different. 

When we are not motivated by pride, we don’t feel threatened by the righteous actions of others. We don’t feel dismayed that maybe our gift wasn’t good enough. We don’t feel a need to throw in the towel because no matter what we do, it can’t keep up with Mary. When we are not motivated by pride, life feels fuller and lighter at the same time. 

When we are motivated by our love for the Savior, we feel content because we know (all the way deep down) that our gift is us. We have given ourself, and that’s all the Savior wants. It is a freeing, happy way to live.

A personal Savior

I remember frequent lessons growing up that what the Savior really wanted from me was me. I remember being taught from a young age that what He really wanted was my heart.

I tried to give my heart, but my focus was ever so slightly askew. I thought giving my heart meant that He wanted me to sacrifice myself. No. The Savior didn’t necessarily care to see me purposefully sacrifice myself as a martyr. The Savior wanted my love and affection because my love and affection make His life worth living. 

He is a personal Savior, not just because He felt everything you’ve been through and paid for all your sins, but because He wants a personal relationship with you. He wants you to turn to Him for advice and call Him up when you have good news. He wants you to open those gifts He sent, read the manual on how to use them, and then He wants you to let those gifts make your life so much easier. 

I know that Mary’s gift meant the world to Christ. He didn’t need anointing. He didn’t need expensive oils. He didn’t need His feet cleaned. And because He’s the Savior of the world, He could have shouldered that atonement without this token of affection from Mary. 

He doesn’t need our love or tokens of affection, but He most assuredly wants them. It’s only natural. When you love someone that deeply, you want to be loved in return. He is your personal Savior because He wants you to love Him like He loves you.

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